Glen Perkins has established himself as one of baseball’s elite closers, finding a spot on the American League All-Star team each of the last three seasons, but the second half of the 2015 season hasn’t been smooth sailing for the 32-year-old veteran.
Back and neck injuries have slowed Perkins down, forcing him to appear in only six games since August 17th. The Minnesota Twins have given the closer role to Kevin Jepsen in his absence, but this allowed Perkins to contribute with something much bigger than any save could have. Last night as he came in and got just his second hold of the season in a win over the Cleveland Indians.
At this point of the season, every game is essentially a playoff game for the Twins, who are two games behind the Houston Astros for the second wild card spot with just 12 games to play. Ervin Santana tossed a brilliant seven-plus innings, allowing just one run on five hits but two of the five hits he allowed opened the eighth inning, forcing first year manager Paul Molitor to turn the bullpen with his team up 3-1.
Molitor went with his trusty All-Star closer in a non-save situation. Because Minnesota had a day off on Monday, all arms were fresh and he could have called on anybody, but why would he? This was a huge situation in a game that the Twins desperately needed to win.
With runners on first and second and nobody out, the situation was made even tougher with the top of the Indians lineup coming up. After a sacrifice bunt from Jason Kipnis got the runners to second and third, pinch runner Mike Aviles opted not to test the 40-year-old arm of Torii Hunter on a fly ball to shallow right field. Perkins then induced a groundball to second base and the inning was over.
Jepsen came in with a clean slate in the 9th inning and got his 13th save of the season, but it’s impossible to deny that Perkins got the more important outs even if the save goes to somebody else.
With each game, the pressure of the playoff race builds, but a healthy looking Perkins to go along with a dominant Jepsen, who has a 1.88 ERA in 25 appearances with Minnesota since coming over at the trade deadline, has the back end of the bullpen suddenly looking like a strength for the Twins.
Phil Hughes, another Twins pitcher who has been limited by injuries in the second half, will get the start tonight as Minnesota looks to inch even closer to the Astros in the wild card race.